Every Man for Himself

In March 1867 Larry Bronson, Peter Kinsinger, and R.P. Kelley returned to Willow Creek and the gold they found there the previous fall. Now they were back, even though others were there before them. But even though they weren’t first on the scene, they still managed to do well by themselves, with five 200 foot claims near their original discovery point.

It’s not clear whether anyone had yet contacted the man who owned the land that they were so busily excavating. Willow Creek ran from Baldy Mountain into the canyon of the Cimarron River. All of the land in question was part of the Maxwell land grant owned by Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell and his wife Maria de la Luz Beaubien, whose inheritance it was.

Bronson, Kinsinger, and Kelly took out 14 ounces of gold that summer alone, then contracted for water rights from Bear and Willow Canyons so they could proceed on a larger scale. This involved moving from gold pan mining to hydraulic equipment. With 40 inches of water and 6 inch hoses to spray the rocks out of the hillsides, the company they formed became one of most productive operations on Willow Creek.

In the end, even Lucien Maxwell and his wife did well, partly as a result of the value of the Baldy Mountain area mining. In early 1870, they sold the entire land grant to a consortium of European investors, while retaining key portions of the grant, including mining claims on the east side of Baldy and water rights along Willow Creek. The men who bought the grant seem to have been confident that they also would do well from the gold and silver mines. However, things didn’t pan out quite as they’d hoped. The Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company was in default by the early 1880s.

But then again, right from the beginning, mining in the area had been based on “every man for himself.”

Sources: Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lure, Lore and Legends of the Moreno Valley, Columbine Books, Angel Fire, 1997; Larry R. Murphy, Philmont, A History of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country, UNM Press, 1972; Leo E Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest, Division of History, National Park Service, Santa Fe, 1993; J. Rush Pierce, Red River City, JRP Publications, Red River, 2008; 1870 U.S. Census Records, Elizabeth City precinct; 1880 U.S. Census Records, Baldy/Ute Park precinct.

 

 

Who Shot Manuel Cardenas and Why?

On Wednesday, November 10, 1875 Manuel Cardenas was shot and killed by an unknown gunman in the short distance between the Colfax County jail and courtroom in Cimarron, New Mexico Territory. Cardenas had been on his way to tell the justice of the peace what he knew about the mid-September death of Methodist missionary Franklin J. Tolby. Because Cardenas died when he did, the mystery of who shot Reverend Tolby, and why, was never solved.

Tolby had been a bur under the Maxwell Land Grant Company’s saddle since he’d arrived in the Territory in early 1874. He pointed out that Congress had thrown the grant land was open to homesteaders and objected strenuously to the Company’s program against the settlers they called “squatters.” Because of Tolby’s status as a minister of the gospel, people listened to him and resisted the Land Gant Company’s enforcers.

When Tolby was killed in the Cimarron canyon in September, many thought Civil War veteran Cruz Vega was responsible. As a result, Vegas was tortured and killed, but before he died, Vega fingered Manuel Cardenas as the man who’d shot Tolby.

Cardenas, in turn, claimed that the now-dead Vega had killed the minister. More importantly, he asserted that three prominent members of the community—men who were believed to be part of the Santa Ring—had ordered the killing. Since members of the Ring had a controlling interest in the Maxwell Land Grant Company, Cardenas’ claim made a lot of sense to many Colfax county residents.

However, Cardenas had yet to make his accusations before the County Court. And he died before he could do so. Since his killer was never identified, questions about Tolby’s killing and its aftermath remain to this day: Who killed Manuel Cardenas and why? Was it a Cruz Vega adherent, revenging the aspersion on his good name? Was it Clay Allison or a member of the vigilante group that killed Cruz Vega, seeking vengeance for Reverend Tolby’s death? Or did the Santa Fe Ring send out a killer to take out their killer before he could officially name names? For that matter, who killed Reverend Tolby? Was it Cruz Vega or Manuel Cardenas? And did members of the Santa Fe Ring really put them up to it? If so, how far did the conspiracy go? The Governor’s office? Unless new evidence shows up now, 142 years later, we’ll never know for sure.

And so the saga of Reverend Tolby’s death ends with more questions raised than answered. This is the stuff that novels are made of!

Sources: Chuck Parsons, Clay Allison, portrait of a shootist, Pioneer Book Publishers, 1983; David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, UNM Press, 2014.

Let The Evictions Begin!!!

In the summer of 1870, the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company closed their sale with Lucien B. and Luz Maxwell for the Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant and the Company began moving to take full possession of the land. This move began with sending notices to anyone who hadn’t arranged with Maxwell for formal title to their land, including miners who had paid Maxwell for the privilege of working their mines or farmers who had been providing produce in lieu of cash money. These “squatters” were informed that they must either make arrangements with the Company or leave. When they didn’t the Company initiated ejectment proceedings. Conveniently, Stephen B. Elkins, a member of the Company Board and the company’s attorney, also happened to be New Mexico Territory’s U.S. Attorney General at the time. None of these cases appeared before the court in the Fall 1870 session, so it appears that there was some time provided to the persons in question who had the resources to make the necessary “arrangements.”

The process was not a smooth or a simple one and the Company’s actions reverberated as far as the East Coast. By the summer of 1875, a series of articles had appeared in a New York newspaper criticizing Santa Fe ring members Elkins, Catron, Palen and others. One of the authors was the Reverend Franklin Tolby, who used his pulpit as a platform for preaching against the Land Grant Company’s eviction process and advocating that the government buy at least of a portion of the grant  as a reservation for the local bands of Utes and Arapahos—a solution to the “Indian problem” that Kit Carson and Indian Agent William Frederick Milton Arny  had proposed prior to the sale of the grant. After all, they’d been here first. This, of course, didn’t happen and local settlers would continue to be evicted and tensions would continue to rise throughout the first half of the 1870’s, beginning with a riot in Etown in 1870 and reaching a crescendo in 1875 with Reverend Tolby’s death and the lynching of a (possibly) innocent man. Stay with me as I look at Reverend Tolby’s activities and death, and the resulting lynching, in the months to come….

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, 1999; Victor Westphall, Thomas B. Catron and His Era, University of Arizona Press, 1973.

Obsession

“Did you know the Maxwell Land Grant Company is evicting people who’ve been farming here for decades?” the Reverend Franklin Tolby demanded.

At the other end of the small pine table, Mary Tolby moved a raised biscuit from the chipped ceramic platter to her plate. “That’s terrible,” she said. “These biscuits are quite good this time. I think I’ve finally gotten used to that stove. Ruthie, eat your peas or there’ll be no dessert.”

Her husband picked absently at his food. “It’s a moral outrage,” he said. “They have no right.”

Mary looked anxiously at his pale face. Since they’d arrived in Cimarron, Franklin had been on horseback constantly, west to Elizabethtown, south to Fort Union and beyond, yet his cheeks showed no evidence of windburn or sun.

“I’ve made strawberry pie for desert,” she said. “An Indian girl came by selling berries. They’re very sweet. The result should be quite tasty.”

Franklin’s eyes focused on her for a split second, then his head snapped up, as if he were listening to something outside the house. “And the Indians,” he said. “With this much land, there’s room for them also.” He paused for a long moment, fork in the air, then said, “Excuse me,” dropped his frayed linen napkin onto the table, and hurried from the room. She heard him scrabbling through the papers on his desk as he prepared to write down whatever had just come to him.

Mary sighed and reached to cover the food on his half-empty plate with a clean napkin. “Ruthie, eat your peas,” she said absently.

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Outsiders Buy Maxwell Land Grant

May 9 illustration.Maxwell Land Grant 1870In May 1870, the newly-incorporated Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Corporation, with a capital stock of $5 million, began the process of taking possession of what had been the Beaubien/Miranda Land Grant, and what formed the majority of New Mexico’s Colfax County. A $1.35 million contract to purchase the grant from Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell and Maria de la Luz Beaubien Maxwell had been signed in late April. However, there’d been a small glitch in the process because the investors purchasing were English. Only Americans were allowed to hold property in New Mexico Territory. So a corporation board of Americans was assembled. Even then, most of the men on the board would have been considered “outsiders” by anyone who’d been born and raised in New Mexico. Only one of them was originally from New Mexico and only two of them would die here.

The most prominent member of the board was William A. Pile, New Mexico Territorial Governor. Pile hailed from Indiana and would go on to represent the U.S. in Venezuela—and Venezuela in the U.S.—before his death in California in 1889.

Dr. Thomas Rush Spencer, Territorial Surveyor General, was originally from Ontario County, New York. Besides his participation in the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Corporation board, Spencer also owned a 20 percent interest in the Mora Land grant. He died in Santa Fe two years after the board incorporated.

John S. Watts, former New Mexico Chief Justice and Territorial delegate to Congress, had been in New Mexico almost twenty years. Originally from Indiana, he would return there within the next few years and be buried there in 1876.

General William Jackson Palmer, Pennsylvania-born Colorado real estate magnate and railroad builder, seems to have never actually lived in New Mexico, although he was prominent in Colorado Territory, co-founding the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and founding Colorado Springs, where he passed away in 1909.

May 9 illustration.Miguel Antonio Otero I.from Twitchell Leading Facts
Source: Ralph Emerson Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New New Mexican History

The only “native” member of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Corporation board was Miguel Antonio Otero, the father of future Territorial Governor Miguel Otero (1897-1906). The elder Otero was born in Valencia County in 1829 and educated in the eastern United States as a lawyer. He returned home to serve as the Territorial Delegate to Congress from 1855 to 1861 and to participate in various mercantile, banking, and railroad ventures, including the Maxwell Land Grant & Railway Corporation. He died in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1882.

Sources: The Government of New Mexico by Thomas C. Donnelly, UNM Press, 1953; Lucien Maxwell, Villain or Visionary, Harriet Freiberger, Sunstone Press, SF, 1999; Roadside History of Colorado, Candy Moulton, Mountain Press, Missoula, 2006; The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Ralph Emerson Twitchell Vol. II, Sunstone Press, 2007; Telling New Mexico, Marta Weigle, Ed., Museum of NM Press, Santa Fe, 2009; The Public Domain in New Mexico, 1854-1891, Victor Westphall, U of NM Press, Albuquerque, 1965; Thomas Benton Catron and His Era, Victor Westphall, U of AZ Press, Tucson, AZ, 1973;  http://newmexicohistory.org/people/william-a-pile accessed 3/27/17;  http://www.findagrave.com/thomas rush spencer accessed 3/27/17; http://cozine.com/2011-june/william-jackson-palmer-1836-1909.